Fort Lauderdale

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Fort Lauderdale, Florida, is not the sort of place one would usually expect to encounter DonQui. Yet he had a very enjoyable week there despite the vagaries of a particularly severe hurricane season.  September-October is not the best time to visit Florida but DonQui had his reasons, arriving after Hurricane Irma and dodging Hurricane Maria.

 

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The east coast of Florida managed to escape the worst of Hurricane Irma although cleaning-up operations were still going on. Piles of palm tree branches clogged the smaller streets awaiting clear-up and crews were still busy taking the sand from the roads and spreading it back on the beaches.

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Like so many North American cities, Fort Lauderdale has been concreted over to make way for the ubiquitous automobile. Wide roads and spaghetti junctions carve up the city leaving very little charm.

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Even the much touted Las Olas Boulevard feels like it is struggling to hold its own against the encroaching office blocks.

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The little strip along the beach at the eastern end of Las Olas does make for a good stroll with many bars and restaurants offering a lively atmosphere along with mediocre live music.

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The beach itself is quite wonderful with easy public access despite the many high rise hotels which line the front.  During the week the beaches are almost deserted…

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… yet on weekends and holidays they rapidly fill up.

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It is the water which makes Fort Lauderdale so much more than a concrete jungle. In addition to the beautiful beaches there are many canals which are best appreciated if you can take a boat — even if it is just one of the water taxis.

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Only a 30 minute drive to the west, the everglades begin and an airboat excursion there is very well worth it as DonQui has previously described.

 

Paradise in Saint Lucia

“Welcome to Paradise!” announces the jovial Mr Mugabe as DonQui trots out into the pleasant 28º heat at St Lucia’s Hewanorra airport. It turns out that the taxi driver’s name is McGuiver not Mugabe but DonQui’s ears have yet to become attuned to his West Indian accent.

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A proud St Lucian, Mr McGuiver drives DonQui south along the shore, proclaiming that he has lived on the island all his life and has never been anywhere else. When one lives in paradise it seems a bit pointless contemplating travels to another place.

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And first impressions do seem to confirm Mr McGuiver’s opinion.

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DonQui’s destination is Sugar Beach, a wonderful secluded estate set between the two Piton mountains on a lush hillside that used to be a sugar plantation. At the bottom of the hill is a pristine beach of white sand looking out onto a protected bay on the Caribbean side of the southern tip of the island.

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The accommodation is pretty decent too. DonQui’s villa is set on the hillside complete with plunge pool cascading over the edge of a verandah with views of the bay beyond.

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Inside all is pristine white with every comfort and convenience a globe-trotting donkey might require, including an on-call butler at the other end of a handy local mobile phone. One downside is that the villa is a long stroll from the beach. This is not too bad going down but is a bit of a trek coming back up the hill. Fortunately there are frequent tuc tucs roaming around the estate to whisk people from place to place. The other downside is the price. This sort of luxury does not come cheap but for an occasional indulgence DonQui thinks it well worth the lightening of his purse.

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Evidence of the French manager and French chef can be seen in the elegantly understated details and the quality of the food and drink. DonQui had not expected to be drinking a fine Alsatian Pinot Noir in the Caribbean but he enjoys one here.

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The food excellent but it is not cheap, nor most especially is the wine. There is a price to be paid for a reliance on French imports and although DonQui is a great fan of French cuisine he thinks a nod or two to local dishes with local ingredients would not go amiss.

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As the sun begins to set, DonQuis sips on a complimentary piton beer, listens to the sounds of a rather good jazz duo and looks out over the Anse des Pitons. It would be hard to imagine anywhere he would rather be at this moment.

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The affable resort manager was recently quoted saying that he has tried to create a sanctuary where everyday life is left outside the gates. DonQui thinks he has succeeded.

 

Beach Hotel in Zanzibar

On his travels again, DonQui is doing some work in Zanzibar. This pleases him no end since he is more than a little bit fond of the place.

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And it is not hard to see why.

zan-2The historical and architectural attractions of Stone Town, wide sandy beaches, the warm Indian Ocean, spice plantations together with a mix of Arab, Indian, Tanzanian and English influences, make Zanzibar an intriguing and relaxing place to visit.

Apart from the few hustlers in Stone Town (who seem to grow in number every time DonQui visits) the locals are incredibly friendly, warm and welcoming. The pace of life (apart from the chaotic traffic) is slow and laid back.

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DonQui is staying at the Z Ocean View hotel on the beach at Kihinani just beyond Bububu, about 10kms outside Stone Town. It is quiet, very quiet. Indeed there are only one or two other visitors despite the resort’s abundant capacity. Chatting to the manager, DonQui learns that the hotel gets most of its business from local conferences rather than international tourists.

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His room is spacious with a lovely view over the ocean. While comfortable (with fan, air-conditioning and decent hot water) it is not quite up to international standards for the $100 price-tag. A nice touch is the way the maids arrange a towel and flowers on the bed every time they make it. DonQui has encountered this at other places on Zanzibar before so he assumes it is some sort of tradition. The food in the open-air restaurant/bar is good but not outstanding. The staff are all very friendly and helpful.

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The Z Ocean View would not normally be DonQui’s first choice for solo-travel but it could well suit a couple who wanted to get away from everything to enjoy the wide sand beach by themselves. There is another Z Hotel at Nungwi further away on the north shore where DonQui stayed with Duchess quite a long time ago. The Nungwi version is much more of an up-market boutique hotel catering to foreign visitors rather than conferencing locals.

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A morning walk along the beach revealed no humans part from a lone woman checking the fish traps. He wonders that if westerners could learn to bend with such a straight back whether the incidence of back injuries would be lessened.

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In the early morning light the islands in the distance appear to be floating between sea and sky.

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The fishing fleet is stranded on the sand waiting for the tide to come back in.

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When it does, in the early evening, the locals come out to populate the shrunken beach and to enjoy the water as well as each others’ company.

Old Boma

DonQui found himself in Mtwara a few months ago. Planned as a deep water port for disastrous Tanganyika groundnut scheme in the 1940s, the town is now rapidly becoming the oil and gas capital of Tanzania since the discovery of huge natural gas reserves off shore. Therefore it is not surprising that DonQui shared the Precision Air flight from Dar es Salaam with a load of British, Norwegian, Canadian, American and Chinese oil & gas boys.

Mtwara

Just short of the Mozambique border, Mtwara is not on most visitors’ destination lists when they think of going to Tanzania. To be truthful DonQui cannot think of many reasons to visit other than to experience a part of the country that few tourists ever see.

The town itself has no attractions and there is tension between the locals and the government which has occasionally erupted into violence. A gas pipeline is being built from Mtwara to Dar es Salaam, causing disruption while the economic benefits will go to Dar, bypassing the locals.

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The one decent hotel in Mtwara, the Naf Beach Hotel  is rather expensive for what it offers and is… well… a little naff. The view over the Indian Ocean is wonderful but the beach is for looking at rather than experiencing.

Just a little to the north of Mtwara, however, is Mikindani — an old port town that was once a major trade centre on the Swahili coast. Mikindani was the staging point of David Livingstone’s last African expedition and was an important port of German East Africa.

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Today the town has shrunk to little more than a village but it retains some of the best Arab and European colonial architecture to be seen in Tanzania outside Zanzibar. A couple of buildings and the Arab cemetery date back to the 17th century.

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The jewel in Mikindani’s crown is surely the Old Boma (old fort). Once the centre of German East African administration in the region, later taken over by the British, it fell into neglect and ruin in post colonial years. At the turn of the millennium a UK charity —Trade Aid — lovingly restored it.

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The signs left by both European colonial occupiers are preserved in the tasteful restoration which has transformed the old fort into a hotel with the aim of teaching local youngsters the skills needed to find employment in Tanzania’s tourism sector.So now the grand Old Boma is both a boutique hotel and a training facility. Overseen by the ebullient Harry MacEwan, the staff learn the hospitality trade, improve their English language skills and many go on to find jobs which will take then from subsistence living to far greater opportunities.

DonQui stayed at the Old Boma for a couple of days and thoroughly enjoyed himself. The building is utterly unique, the setting wonderful and although the service was at times erratic — a function of the fact that is a training establishment — he highly recommends spending a few days here if you have any sense of history and are looking for peaceful tranquility. The food is pretty good too and they even make their own honey on site — produced by tiny, stingless bees.

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The Old Boma provides a number of excursions. DonQui took them up on an offer of a trip to the white sands and coral reef of Msimbati beach on the Mnazi Bay Marine Reserve —very close to the Mozambique border.

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Setting off in a rickety old land rover with two local boys and a packed lunch, the 35 mile trip took a couple of hours along a dirt road.

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Passing through lush forest, rice paddies and several ramshackle villages the trip gave DonQui the opportunity to view rural Tanzania which is a world away from the bustle of Dar es Salaam. He was shocked to see that all the manual labour in the rice paddies and on road construction sites was almost universally done by women. Bowed low under their burdens they toiled in the sun while their men sat in the shade and apparently did very little. An urban Tanzanian friend later sorrowfully told him that the women would be expected to cook a meal for their idle menfolk on return from their labours.

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Signs of the omnipresent Chinese investment to extract African natural resources were also plain to see when the forest suddenly gave way to an oil and gas facility.

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Msimbati was about a close to beach paradise as DonQui could ever hope to find. He had the fine sand beach entirely to himself. The day was cloudy and there was an easterly breeze which made the 35º heat rather pleasant.

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The water was warm and crystal clear with a teaming coral reef just off shore which made for a near perfect snorkelling destination. The two young men who accompanied him, set up a small table and sun shade where he could retreat from the noon day sun and enjoy the very good packed lunch which the Old Boma had provided. Spicy samosas, fresh salad, pineapple and mango seemed just about the perfect lunch on a hot afternoon.

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On his return to Mikindani DonQui took a walk down the road, stopping several times to photograph the local children, all of whom insisted on seeing themselves on his camera. None of them spoke any English apart from the following words: “photo” and “Manchester United.” As a creature with no interest in football what so ever, DonQui despaired at what appears to have become Britain’s most popular export.

Ten Degrees South

Navigating his way through the local pint size paparazzi magnets, DonQui’s destination was Ten Degrees South.  Dive centre, bar, restaurant and simple hotel, Ten Degrees South is the antithesis of the relatively upmarket but quiet Old Boma. Gathered around the bar, overseen by an expat Canadian doctor, were a lively mix of oil boys on leave, NGO girls taking a break from doing good works, scuba divers returning from exploring the reefs and even a couple of locals.

It was the perfect place to sip on a beer or two and exchange gossip with the eclectic mix of multi-national customers

Zanzibar

What is there not to like about Zanzibar? DonQui thinks to himself.travellers (1)

He is at one of his favourite spots —  the Travellers’ Café in Stone Town, tucked down a small alley and overlooking the Indian Ocean. When he looks up from writing this post, he sees a dow sailing by in the mid distance.

It is true that there are problems here — political, religious and economic. Two years ago there was the horrific acid attack on a British tourist. Fortunately this seems to have been a one-off which filled the Zanzibarans with the same feelings of revulsion as it did for Brits.

The union of Zanzibar with Tanganyika, which created modern Tanzania, was never to be a marriage of eternal bliss and happiness. The problems and differences have exploded into violence during past elections and with polling day tomorrow (Sunday 25 October) the number of tourists are lower than usual.

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The ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi party has won all of the previous elections but this time the expected outcome is too close to call. DonQui’s Tanzanian friends assured him that previous violence in Zanzibar is unlikely this year.

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As DonQui wanders around the back streets of Stone Town he does not feel any great tension. He has a good nose for such things and can usually sense trouble before it blows up . The parties have their flags flying but DonQui cannot smell any aggression.

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Stone Town, a UNESCO world heritage site, is a fascinating place to spend a couple of days. It’s wonderful mix of Arab and colonial architecture, the narrow winding streets, and the ever present influence of the Indian Ocean appeals to DonQui’s sense of history while also giving him the chance to relax in a beautiful setting. Zanzibar cuisine mixes Arab and Indian influences, drawing from the sea and the spices which are cultivated on the Island. He has had more than one or two excellent meals here.

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Many boat excursions are on offer to some of the outlying places such as Prison Island and Nakupenda Beach. Last year DonQui took a small boat to Prison Island (or Changuu). The island got its name from the fact that it was used in the 1860s to incarcerate rebellious slaves. During the British regime it was used as a quarantine station for yellow fever cases. Now it is home to a giant turtle sanctuary.prison island

It also has a coral reef just off shore where there are excellent snorkelling opportunities.

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It did DonQui’s ego no harm to be the stallion in a herd of Australian nurses, even if their interest in photography outweighed their interest in his wit and charm!

Nungui

There is far more to Zanzibar that Stone Town. A few years ago DonQui and Duchess spent a few blissful days at Nungwi on the northern tip of the island. They stayed at the Z hotel which was about as close to heaven as DonQui can imagine.

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This wonderful small boutique hotel occupies a prime spot on the beach, has amazingly comfortable rooms and superb food. DonQui even took the opportunity for a rather excellent massage at their spa.

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DonQui is not usually a great fan of in-house entertainment as he usually finds  such things rather kitch. However one night’s show at the Z Hotel was more than a little bit spectacular.

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Another popular thing to do on Zanzibar is to go on a spice tour to see how the many spices which grow here are cultivated and prepared. DonQui passed up the opportunity because he wanted to simply relax. However, Duchess, who was with him at the time, went on the tour and reported back in glowing terms.

A Nice Quiet Beach

Feeling in need of a little R&R by the sea, DonQui makes his way to La Azohía, not too far from Cartagena on what is called the Costa Cálida or ‘Warm Coast’. By now it is late September and the air temperature is still hitting the high 20s – low 30s although the water seems a bit colder than it was in Tarragona a week or so earlier.

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DonQui was hoping for a quiet place to relax without horrid high-rises, garish attractions or too many humans.

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He had found it. La Azohía is about as laid back as even a sleepy donkey could hope for. There is only one tiny shop, a few restaurants and a couple of beach bars.

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With the season coming to an end, the coast is pretty free of humans and many of the restaurants and bars are closed. The best, however, are still open.

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Although it is on the east coast, the south-west facing curve of the beach means that there are some fabulous sunsets to watch while sipping a drink and having a meal at the Restaurante Bodega Molina.

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Here DonQui enjoys some very nice freshly caught fish grilled with garlic, olive oil and chillies.

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An even better sundowner is to be had at the Rockola Summer Club – a tiny beach bar.

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Here all drinks are €1.50 and they have a great play list of rock, blues and jazz.

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All in all DonQui thinks La Azohía is a pretty good place to stay for a few days of blissful peace and quiet. There are no hotels here but if you fancy a stay there are plenty of holiday apartments to rent. DonQui found a very nice one right on the beach through Airbnb.

A Lazy Sunday at the Beach

First impressions were not great. The beach looked grey and deserted, and a lady warned of jelly fish.  However, a little cove by the Paraiso de Nerja was just inviting enough to tempt DinQui down the steps to explore. In worst case he could have a coffee and then head off to find a better place.

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At a pleasant 26 degrees with clear sky and an off shore breeze, Nerja started to feel like a place to stay for a few hours. Close up the gritty grey sand was not so bad and some inviting parasols clustered amongst palm trees were enough to convince DonQui to shell out €4 each and stay a while.

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As Duchess basked in the late morning sun, DonQui went off exploring. He clambered over the rocks at the bottom of the grey slate cliff, which gave its colour to the sand and then paddled back along the shore.

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Apart from a lone fisherman and a couple of other humans, DonQui had the place to himself.

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After a little rest on the sun bed DinQui was in need of some refreshment. Fortunately just a few metres up from the beach was El Avalon – rated on TripAdvisor as the #1 place to eat in Nerja. DonQui agrees. The food was delicious and the setting on a high terrace overlooking the beach was hard to beat.

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The pawns in garlic butter sauce were the highlight…

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…but all the dishes were excellent.

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Than it was back down to the beach. There were more humans there but still pretty peaceful. DonQui found a nice shady spot under a fan palm and had an afternoon nap, the sound of the breaking waves gently sending him off to sleep.

DonQui Recommends:

El Avalon for a long, leisurely, luxurious,  lunch